Material Temporalities in Twentieth-Century French Culture
Edited By Lisa Jeschke and Adrian May
← 126 | 127 → MARTIN CROWLEY
To be human is to be finite. Res extensa, matter bounded corporeally in space, of course; but also, crucially, in relation to time. As Sartre observed in 1945, my existence, as a human existence, is defined by my exposure to a three-fold necessity: I am by definition – for the time being, perhaps –obliged to be born, to die (to find myself within this temporality, nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita), and also to find myself existing amidst a multitude of other finite beings.1 This may not in itself distinguish thehuman from other similarly finite beings, of course; for the strain of thought which derives from Heidegger’s analysis of fundamental existential structures, however (and despite Heidegger’s own vexed anthropocentrism), exposure to this finitude, and especially to this temporality, is indeed distinctively human. Even this apparently qualified form of human exceptionalism remains wholly debatable, to be sure; but this will not be my focus here. Rather, I wish to explore the ways in which this thought of human finitude may be connected to an egalitarian politics. For as Jean-Luc Nancy, in particular, has frequently insisted (pace Sartre), finitude is not available for appropriation – either as a resource, as the foundation of a project, or as an object for consciousness or the will. Finitude is, in this sense, radically and paradoxically shared: it is what we all, in common, are exposed to and cannot appropriate. This state of affairs presents us with a form of irreducible...
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